Home & Garden

The Frank garden in Morro Bay: water wise and rusty

Large boulders help hold the hillside while a dry streambed makes its way to the street. Former well casings display distinctive succulents.
Large boulders help hold the hillside while a dry streambed makes its way to the street. Former well casings display distinctive succulents. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

There is such elegant simplicity to Maggie and Gabriel Frank’s garden — and such beauty — that visitors don’t even think about its most important feature: extremely low water use.

Their property, a Morro Bay demonstration garden, offers a look at California’s garden future and how beautiful it will be. Open to public view, it serves as a showcase for Gabriel’s landscape business, Gardens by Gabriel.

Maggie said she has watched Gabriel put other people’s gardens together, but when she saw that happen at their own home, it was stunning.

“It is surprisingly emotional to walk out and see that transformation happen so fast. I didn’t expect this completed thing. Now we turn on the sound system and the outdoor fire pit, and it’s instant ambiance. It feels so inviting you want to stay and contemplate, looking at the trees and sunset, and not at your phone.”

California natives such as gray-green Morroensis manzanita, bright coral red Coyote Mint and a mix of aloes trying to outbloom each other are easily viewed with Palomino gravel as ground cover. The natives bring year-round color with their distinctive flowers and leaves.

Wide paths with blue-green gravel from Whale Rock Quarry make a distinctive walk between planting beds. Distinctive rocks used as edging were hand selected. A rusted element is injected with metal channel iron as edging too. Gabriel Frank said he likes the rusted element in gardens because it already has a patina and is ready to go.

Wispy black and green bamboo varieties and mature ceanothus form a gentle screen between neighbors. Although the feel is one of isolation, the garden is in the heart of Morro Bay with views of sea and cloud-draped rock.

Frank set aside a circular area in the garden for prickly things. He calls it his “danger garden” and it is anchored by a huge blue-gray agave specimen named “Mr. Ripple.” Several other varieties of agave are in the same location and cycads from Madagascar threaten as well. Don’t fall into it.

Frank designed his gates so entering the backyard is its own delight. Rusted rebar and gears create an open and whimsical entry. The steep slope to his neighbor’s yard is terraced with edibles, mostly lettuces, spinach and kale. Strawberries lie low and creep over the wall.

He wanted a softer feel in the area where the family entertains, and planted a native meadow using clumps of blue-green carex glauca and green carex pansa. The texture of the two grasses playing against each other is attractive and easy on the feet.

This “lawn” needs little water and only requires mowing twice a year. Ping pong is one of his passions and players stand on the meadow with no damage to the “lawn.” An aggregate bowl spills water into a colorful gravel surround with a reservoir beneath to re-circulate. Speaking of water, although most of the garden is quite young, the drip irrigation is only run once every two to three weeks.

A former well casing is effectively used as a large container for a distinctive aloe. Rusty corrugated iron forms a base for a winding retaining wall/seating area topped with polished concrete made with Moonstone Beach aggregate. The barbecue also uses polished concrete as a work surface. A collection of gear pieces are cleverly inserted into the flagstone patio around the metal fire pit.

People who live near the sea seem to enjoy planting undersea gardens. Succulents that resemble coral, anemones, starfish and octopus are a remarkably accurate representation. Spiral aloe, echeveria and euphorbias double as invertebrates.

An old tuba, not normally a garden feature, awaits plants. Part of an old bicycle already has its collection.

Steps to the house overwhelm visitors. They are made using giant stone slabs in colors that echo the flagstone and rusty elements. And they are stacked like toasted bread. The project looks simple, but when something weighs 1,900 pounds, nothing is simple. Frank remarked that he gained a new appreciation of stonemasons with this effort.

For an appointment to see this garden visit http://www.gardensbygabriel.com/contact.